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System Overload: Managing Burnout Before 30

A meme recently began circulating on social media depicting a woman appearing to be extremely stressed and clearly overwhelmed. The meme is coupled with a caption that reads “Me trying to excel in my career, maintain a social life, drink enough water, exercise, text everyone back, stay sane, survive & be happy.” The message taken from the pic is that our pursuit of achieving all of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations while maintaining a work/life balance feels damn near impossible. However, millennials have been taught since an early age that anything is achievable and attainable so long as you work very hard. So exactly what gives?

The expectations that we place on ourselves, on both individual and societal levels, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and incompleteness, anxiety and disappointment. The combination of our results-driven corporate economy and the ever-evolving competitive environment on social networks presents a unique question for millennials – just how much is good enough?

This cycle of striving for perpetual achievement almost always ends in burnout, stress-related anxiety, and (often) the onset of depression. A May 2016 HuffingtonPost report referenced an American Psychological Association study that revealed that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder – almost twice of that of Baby Boomers. Anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, acute stress disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder – amongst other diagnoses. Generally, most anxiety disorders include stressful events/environments as a qualifier for diagnosis.

So what does all of this mean?

It is in the best interest of millennials to begin practicing behaviors that will support long-term mental and emotional wellness. A holistic approach to behavioral change incorporates many facets of wellness. Below are a few recommendations to decrease stress, anxiety, and the onset of burnout:

Self-Care – This phrase term is becoming more chic within popular culture. From a therapeutic standpoint, self-care speaks towards intentionally engaging in behaviors and activities that nurture your physiological, emotional, and spiritual elements and lead to feelings of balance and equilibrium.

Relax and Relate – While it may seem as if you are the only person in the world that can understand and appreciate your daily struggles, oftentimes most people are experiencing the same feelings of inequity and a lack of assurance. Talking about our daily experiences with work, home life, etc. to family, friends, and/or colleagues helps to eliminate the expectation that we must lead and present perfect lives. Informal online support groups have evolved into excellent safe spaces that bring people from various backgrounds together to discuss common issues.

Nutrition and Rest – Many don’t realize the impact of maintaining a healthy diet and getting proper rest can have on our mental health and wellness. Contemporary studies have begun making connections between unhealthy diets and increased symptomatology of anxiety and depression. In contrast, having a diet that includes sources of DHA (shellfish and cold-water fish) provides fatty acids strongly associated with improved brain health. Maintaining adequate levels of sleep and relaxation also has a direct impact on our mental and behavioral health. A report from Harvard Medical School (2009) notes that a lack of sleep and/or sleep disruption — which affects levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones, among other things — wreaks havoc in the brain, impairing thinking and emotional regulation.